Youth Ministry as Life Ministry

Photo by bipolarbear via Flickr (creative commons)

A few years ago I was talking to a senior pastor about youth ministry. In a moment of honesty he said something like this.

“I don’t get it. Tell me why you want to work with high school students your whole life. You’re qualified to be a senior pastor. You have all the qualities people look for in a senior pastor. And your teaching style moves high school students to a type of faith that most churches would love. Plus, you could be the boss and you’d make a lot more money. What don’t I see?”

The truth was that it took me by surprise because I’d never been asked that question. I’ve only been asked it’s annoying cousin, “When are you going to be a “real” pastor?

Here’s a summary of what I told him:

  • I love the process. In the 5-6 years that you have a student in your ministry you see them go from squirrelly middle schooler to mostly grown up.
  • I love that adolescents are moldable. The reason you can teach them radical truths and they will respond is pretty amazing. You just don’t see many adults looking for truth to move them.
  • I love the fun factor. When was the last time you’ve preached to adults and illustrated something by covering a kid in shaving cream or dunking for oreos in chocolate syrup. Like never. There’s a middle schooler in me that is highly amused by this kinesthetic goofy learning stuff. Adults just don’t go for it.
  • I love that it doesn’t end unless you want it to. Seriously, this is a beautiful time of year. I love the longitudinal factor of youth ministry. And I love the fact that you can chose to continue investing in some students while having a perfectly good excuse to move them out of your life. You can’t do that as a senior pastor, can you?

How would you have answered this question?

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in the San Diego neighborhood of Rolando with their three children.

5 comments

  1. Short answer? Because it’s where God has called me. It can be easy to say I’m going to move into a more prestigious area of ministry, but if it’s not where God has called me that I am in essence replacing God with myself. Besides that, I agree with what you said, working with youth can be so rewarding. I love to see their faces as they get it. Youth are filled with passion, and while it is challenging, I love to be in the position to help them develop their passion toward God and his truth in their life and their world.

  2. I am a youth ministry lifer. I believe students can be a large marginalized demographic in some church policy- and also thst students are the most powerful people on earth. As a youth worker, we get to inspire life change and encourage the crap out of world changers. I am called to students. I am not called to climbing up the church ladder.

  3. I’ve been working with youth for almost 25 years. I love the level of honesty in youth. They are looking for someone to speak truth to them and encourage them. When you give them a safe place, they drop their walls and are more open spiritually. There is less damage with a teen and more chances to help them not have regrets that scar them forever.

    The call to youth ministry is like throwing up – eventually you just gotta do it!

  4. After 24 yrs in customer service for the private sector with ever-shrinking opportunities (into that ‘narrow-gate’ place leading to the wine-press), my wife suggested I apply for a secretarial position in the school district (public sector) where she works as a 2nd Grade teacher. I was hired in 2004 to work for Director of IT which seemed at the time like a match as most of the CSR positions I have had were in technology companies. Then, our Illinois Gov Rod Blagojevich short-changed school funding, I was ‘RIF’d meaning let-go in good standing and had a chance to interview for any positions that might arise. As it tuned out, I was accepted as the attendance secretary working for the Dean of Students in one of our local high schools (we have 3 now) for handling students who arrive late, leave early or are out all day (sick, field trip, etc). All that to say, with some gratitude, I now find it a privilage to serve our communities’ youth. I constantly pray for them, I look forward to the micro-interactions at my counter where they sign-in and/or out, and have grown to appreciate them in ways I could not have even imagined before. Breaking it down: Fragil Freshmen, Sincere Sophmores, Jumping Juniors (the Great-Divide), and finally, the Sarcastic Seniors. Yes, teenages seem to get funnier as they get older. I view my role as a focal point for witnessing the love of Christ as I pray in parallel to the complicated changes and challenges clamoring (bombarding) our young people as they face each day. As the only male secretary in our district (we have 32 buildings), I have been blessed with unique moments to offer a guilt-free zone filled with godly acceptance and understanding. I am eager to listen and learn from them about their journey. It seems to help me in my own journey. I realize the limitations of my position in terms of ministry, but I pray that such limits would bear much fruit for His Name.
    ps: Blago is currently on trial for selling favors
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100603/ap_on_re_us/us_blagojevich_trial

  5. @peter- that’s an awesomely fun ministry! You have more access to high school students than just about any youth pastor. Your story reminds me of Joseph. God had placed a man at a key position in a system for a godly purpose.

    p.s. I think they should put Blago in the same cell as George Ryan.

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